Lynn Burkhead — 46th Annual Texoma DU Dinner

Herald Democrat
Longtime Whitesboro auctioneer Doug Rodgers will have plenty of work cut out for himself early next week at the 46th annual Texoma Chapter of Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner. The local quacker backer event, which begins at 6 p.m., will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn Texoma Events Center in Denison on Oct. 19.

For quacker backers, next week marks a day somewhat akin to the anticipation and celebration found by kids early on Christmas morning each year.

Why is that? Because it's nearly time for the 46th edition of the Texoma Ducks Unlimited Banquet to unfold in Denison, that’s why. And if you like shotguns, duck calls, Texas-rigged decoys, the latest in duck hunting camo and Labrador retrievers that whine as the mallard’s whistle by quietly overhead, then this evening is tailor made for you.

With that in mind, the 2021 version of the annual Texomaland quacker backer fundraising tradition took place Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn Texoma Event Center in Denison.

If you’re a regular DU attendee or like to read whatever is in this space each week, then you might remember that this year’s venue is exactly where the 45th Texoma DU event was scheduled to be held about a year ago.

But then again, the 2020 Texoma DU event, like many things during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, didn’t come off without any problems since a last minute change necessitated quickly moving the event to the nearby Mayor Arena at Denison’s Loy Lake Park.

But that was a year ago, and now, even if the virus continues to inflict suffering, misery, and death across our nation, it does seem that life is getting back towards normal and that hopefully, the worst of the pandemic may be behind us. I guess we’ll see about that.

But like last weekend’s Texas/OU game at the Cotton Bowl, the recent Denison Fall Festival, or even the Battle of the Ax football game a few weeks ago, crowd capacity is back at 100 percent and everyone’s enthusiasm is high right now. And that should mean a regular, good old fashioned quacker backer event next Tuesday night as a good crowd — and perhaps a sell-out — is anticipated.

Of course, a sell-out is what has typically taken place down through the four-plus decades since Sherman’s Jim Lillis and others held the first Texoma DU event across from Bearcat Stadium in the Sherman Municipal Ballroom.

While the first couple of event crowds during the 1970s might not have been as big as they are now, it didn’t take long before there were 500-plus quacker backers crowding venues like airplane hangars at Texoma Regional Airport, the Mayor Arena at Loy Lake Park, and now the hotel event facility across from Texoma Medical Center.

No matter where those mid-October events have taken place, the end result is a lot of camouflage, a lot of decoys and hunting gear, a fair number of DU shotguns and sporting art prints, a good supply of Texas barbecue brisket, and lots of enthusiasm to raise money for the ducks.

Through the years, the Texoma chapter of DU has been one of the best in North Texas almost every single year, annually netting upwards of $75,000 dollars or more. Some years, those net fundraising numbers have even bled into the six figure plus range, making Texoma DU an award winning chapter that some years has ranked among the best in the nation.

The formula for that success — which is now approaching five decades and counting — has always been an enthusiasm for the ducks that wing their way south through the Central Flyway and push into the Texoma area in November, December and January.

While the duck hunting heyday of the local region has long since passed — before the peanut farming industry went away in Grayson County, the local area supported some phenomenal hunting for mallards, pintails, gadwalls, wigeon, and Canada geese — the enthusiasm for the ducks has never waned.

That’s why the Texoma DU committee, started by Lillis and his pals, and maintained down through the years by people like Craig Watson, Jim Short, Steve Oden, the late John Brakebill, Jim Salling, Bob Drews, Naif Risk, Rim Nall, Terry Crow, the late Ray Matthews, Doug Rodgers, Danny Bodecker, Erick Kloppers, Kris Spiegel, and many others I’m sure that I’m forgetting, have all rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to make the local DU event such a powerful conservation force for nearly half a century now.

Add in the annual hard work of dozens of committee members and the end result has been a duck hunting party that remains a can’t miss event all these years later, one still filled with sporting art prints by the likes of famed artists like Terry Redlin, Eldridge Hardy, David Maass, John Cowan, the duck stamp winning dynasty of the Hautman brothers, and many more.

Add in decorative decoys by championship carvers, yearly DU collectible items, and a wide array of sporting shotguns, hunting rifles, and handguns by companies like Remington, Browning, Ruger, Benelli, Beretta, and Mossberg, and more, and the end result is a lot of dollars shelled out for the ducks.

Some of those dollars are spent in the live auction manned by longtime auctioneer Doug Rodgers; more come through the crowded silent auction aisle as bidders jostle for last-call positioning as time winds down; and still more come through the raffle ticket sales that result in attendees smiling big as they carry a fistful of raffle ticket hopes back to their seats and dream big.

Add in a few special games and drawings that each year’s Texoma DU dinner produces — sometimes honoring longtime supporters like Lacy Harbor or the late Jerry Paul Higgins — and the bottom line is that each year, Texoma duck hunters do their part by annually shelling out plenty of George Washington’s to keep the ducks flying south down the Great Plains and towards Lake Texoma.

They’ll gather early next week and do it again, filing through the doors in Denison, enjoying a good meal, buying tickets for the “Jerry Paul Higgins 7-Gun Raffle” and more, and hoping that the truck is full of hunting gear, sporting art, decoys, and other outdoor related goodies when they head home.

If you’d like a chance to see what DU treasures you can carry home this year, all while helping the ducks, then consider attending the 46th annual Texoma DU event next week in Denison. According to mailouts and e-mails, tickets are $60 in advance for singles and there are also sponsorship options available with a variety of ticket numbers attached to each level. By the way, the sponsorship levels are $300 for Bronze, $750 for Silver, and $1,500 for Gold.